Growing importance of village halls

That was the message from Slim Wilkinson, secretary of the Norfolk Association of Village Halls (NAVH), after the organisation appealed for more members before its county council grant ends next year.

Mr Wilkinson, who has been involved in halls for 51 years, said they were increasingly transforming into community hubs - the one venue left standing after shops, post offices and even pubs closed.

He said one held religious services when a chapel started to fall down, and he believes community bars will be coming on tap soon.

He said: 'There are now one or two village halls where their village shop has closed and we see more and more that the village hall is going to take over these roles because there's nobody else to do these things.

'I think the role of the village hall is moving more to community centres with a shop, post office and now a pub.

'Once it starts, if you have a community shop you find people coming along to volunteer to work in it. It's getting it off the ground to start with that's difficult, but that's where we come in.'

The association, which held its AGM on Saturday March 17, offers free legal advice, training and emergency loans that can help halls navigate their changing role, as well as social events for its 142 members.

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Keith Skipper, who spent 25 years touring halls with the Press Gang and had the audience rolling with laughter at the Wood Norton Village Hall meeting, said they seemed 'fire proof' in the midst of cuts and recession.

He said: 'When you think of the costs of going out in your car when there's a good-value social event or squit or barn dance in the village hall, people will look on it as not far to go, and it will not cost them so much.'

The meeting also heard talks about insurance, pest control and licensing.

The NAVH has run at a deficit for two years, and the AGM agreed to save on postage, its biggest cost, by increasing email usage, and will ask existing members to invite nearby halls to consider joining.

Membership costs �10 this year, but it will increase to �15 next year. Contact Mr Wilkinson at Secretary, NAVH, 21 Archdale Stret, King's Lynn, PE30 1QY, or

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